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Showing posts from April, 2012

Drape Hits It Out of the Park

The disconnect between the outright giddiness of slots-fuelled large purses for claiming races and economic reality has long been a bone of contention for many in the sport, me included.

If a stock has an increase in earnings, the price of it goes up. It's how the market works. Horses at a fixed cost, suddenly racing for 3X or more the claiming price, tries to put a square peg in a round hole. It turns animals into commodities, can and has attracted the lowest of the low to this business, and it should never have been allowed to happen.

Joe Drape looks at the phenomenon today in the New York Times.

People complained about the methodology of the last New York Times article, and they had a point. However, the shoot the messenger strategy with this article should not happen. This one is all on us.


Social Media/Twitter etc are spoke about with regards to horse owners and trainers letting fans know health issues of racehorses, on HRU. Also, a couple of initiatives to make it bet…

1882 & Post Ones

Imagine you have a Derby starter who looks lights out the best. Although you did not win the Juvy (your horse didn't race at two), you're undefeated, ran a couple of 118 Beyers, with 22.4 last quarters. Your colt even ran that in the Wood while 6 wide the whole way around.

It may be a coronation the first Saturday in May, you're that good.

The gates spring open for the Derby. Your colt, leaving from the rail, gets a nice run into the first turn. Sitting 11th, he moves out and circles the field running a 23 flat, making a comfortable lead in 47.4 (easy for him, because he's that good). Then the impossible happened. Calvin Borel is trying to scoot up the rail with a 142-1 shot (who is on the board at 8-1), veers out into a Pletcher horse who runs right into your colt and puts him into the outer rail. You've lost about 30 lengths, but, he is so good, that he picks himself up, catches the field, circles it again, and loses by a head.

Amazing performance.


Why Union Rags Will Be Chalk

I've been reading the press, some sharp bettors and twitter for the past week or two, and conventional wisdom says the big Beyer horse - Bodemeister - will be chalk for Derby 138. Some even think he'll be as low as 3-1.

Without the benefit of seeing the draw, I think this won't be the case. I believe Union Rags will be the favorite for four reasons:

1 - The buzz on this colt is still stout, despite the loss and the lack of a big 2012 Beyer. The clocker types are going ga-ga over him.

2 - Familiarity breeds betting dollars. Last year in the Juvenile, a million or more viewers watched him, and thought he was miles better than Hansen. Not a day goes by it seems that someone says he traveled further than the circumference of Mars more than the winner. There are fans, both casual and rabid, wanting to see him get revenge and make the Trakus number look like gold. Think Zenyatta. She was 4-5 against Blame in the Breeders Cup Classic. Everyone saw her close from St. Louis to almo…

Derby News, or Super Bowl News?

The NFL might have sixty players to chat with, and a game watched by a billion people, but they don't have 20+ horses, trainers, grooms, owners, and tons of fans ready to bet $100 million on a race chatting them up.

This news cycle has been pretty astonishing, and opinions on who will win the big race can change by the minute.

Perhaps you liked I'll Have Another on Tuesday, getting ready to key him in exotics, looking for a nice score. On Wednesday you found out he was shocked in his back end, so you ripped up those tickets. Then you read it was "routine and simple maintenance treatment for blood flow" and said "well, maybe I'll keep him keyed". Then you read bettors and owners talking about how it is anything but routine for a horse to be regularly shocked. Rip up those tickets again.

I bet you loved Bodemeister and saw a glowing workout report. Alrightee, let's roll. Then you saw another opinion that he looked kind of sore. Rip em up.

You saw a wo…

Kentucky Derby Time & Forgetting What It Is To Be a Fan

Derby Day is a little more than a week away and I'm waxing melancholic about the whole affair, just like I do each year.

My Derby day is pretty simple for the most part. I have my sheets, the PP's, speed figs and trip notes scattered across my desk and on two computer screens. I have my browser open to about 40 websites. I have three ADW accounts open, exchanges open for clues. I use the track feed all day, because I don't have time to look at a red carpet interview or a human interest story, and for gawd's sakes I don't want to miss a post parade. Then I bet, and bet, and bet some more.

After the race I share a story or two, the odd time (like when Closing Argument lost) commiserate with a gambling friend or two, then I usually watch the harness races or NHL Playoffs at night.

I read this morning about Men's Derby Hats, and Derby recipes. I hear about people having others over to drink a Mint drink and sing along to the Kentucky Derby song. I hear people talki…

"Not Very Good Advice"

Thank goodness Betfair is doing some things in the US. Without them I would get fewer Jerry Jamgotchian emails in my inbox calling them names reserved usually for axe murders, and certainly fewer laughs.

Today, regarding the naming deal at Hollywood Park and new social media spend:
It bubbled to the surface during a California Horse Racing Board meeting at Santa Anita on March 22, interestingly, the day before Everett, 90, died. In attendance were Hollywood Park Chief Executive Jack Liebau and the U.S. chief executive of Betfair and TVG, Stephen Burn. Burn was there to observe and support Liebau. He said he was somewhat taken aback by what he saw and heard.

"It seemed to me," Burn said, "to be a bunch of old men telling Hollywood Park how to market to young people. There was a lot of public showboating, and the advice they were giving was not very good advice." Racing has had 135 years to get the younger generation interested in racing. It hasn't worked. G…

When You Card a Race for Customers, Customers Bet

I read with interest this morning Jennie Rees' story on Kentucky Derby 138.

She says "If the strength of a field can be determined by its lowest rung, consider El Padrino in the May 5 Kentucky Derby."

El Padrino was a hot horse earlier this year and one which is still feared by many. He'll likely be a longshot.

The Derby may be an exception of course, but it does illustrate something that you and I find common sensical, that racing seems to grapple with: Card a race worth gambling on, and people will gamble on it.

If we look at handle losses the past ten years, we see places like California, who carded (and still does to some extent) races for owners, instead of bettors. You could not go one week on a chat board and not see a player complaining about four and five horse fields; there are literally thousands of posts on the subject at places like California all source thoroughbred handles lost upwards of 50% the past decade - yes, half their busine…

Derby Allure

Mike Welsch of the DRF is reporting this morning that Trinniberg will likely be entered in the Derby in two weeks. This horse, a sprinter, has looked like one of the most talented speed horses we've seen in some time. He is exciting and he's fast.

Why go to a 10 furlong race with such a fine speed specimen? I don't really know, but I imagine it's the Derby allure that's rubbing off on the connections. It makes people do some otherwise strange things.

Maybe the colt is so good that he shocks us and becomes a Triple Crown threat. If so, many of us will eat crow. But on paper, this decision feels yukky.

The Pig Slays TVG

This morning on screamed a headline about a Pig and TVG.The story involves Twinspires' "Quarter Hog" letting people know about TVG's 25 cent wagering fees, and the fact that TVG initiated a cease and desist order.

This opened the door for the Twinspires VP of marketing to issue the following response:
"TVG should cease and desist from being a Quarter Hog,”  Great response; purely Godinesque.

I don't think the Quarter Hog idea was a bad one, but it wasn't exactly setting the world on fire, despite the huge money spent on its marketing. However, as is the case so many times in marketing, some catalyst does tend to set it on fire. This time it was TVG - doing it to themselves.

I'm no Twinspires fan for various player-centric reasons, but boy, did that pig ever slay TVG today.

Harness Horsemen Versus Thoroughbred Horsemen and Bad Raps

I read with interest the section of HRU, "2 minutes with" where thoroughbred trainer Barry Abrams was interviewed. Barry, as you all know, was a top trainer in harness racing in the 1980's with horses like the venerable Guts.

When asked what was harder to train a thoroughbred or standardbred Barry said this:

It’s much easier to train thoroughbreds. It helps to be a horseman to train thoroughbreds but you don’t have to be a horseman. That’s because you can hire people to do everything for you. In standardbreds, you have to know how to sit behind them, shoe them, train them yourself; you need to know about the sulky and all the other equipment. With thoroughbreds you just need to throw a saddle on them. If a thoroughbred trainer switched to standardbreds they wouldn’t do any good because they wouldn’t know what to look for.

This is something that always amazed me, and amazes people like Beyer. Let me ask you, if Joe Blow gets a problem trotter and puts him back in after 2 w…

Someone in New York Wants to Kick Some Ass

Over the past few months it's maddened you, as it has me. Industry insiders, horsemen groups, apologists for racing and press release after press release extolling the virtues of big slot purses at NYRA. If you read them, or those releases, you'd wonder if the business even has customers.

I like to call what's been happening "Ontario, circa 1998".

Someone decided, apparently, that he's heard enough. New York State Franchise Oversight Board member John Crotty said this yesterday about the situation with NYRA slot cash:
 At the heart of the matter is the concept that raising purses makes everything sort of sustainable, I reject, I reject forever.  The fundamental problem with racing is the number of people interested in it is lower than it should be and lower and growing the wrong way for it to be sustainable. If you don’t grow the pie, I don’t know — good seats on the Titanic.” Brav-freaking-oh. Horseplayers and folks who've lived through the concept o…

NBC Sports Network Hockey Ratings Through the Roof. Can Horse Racing Follow?

Earlier this year the ratings for the NBC Sports Network were brutal, and we surmised it might not bode well for their horse racing coverage. Although I have not seen ratings anywhere for the Florida Derby or Spiral (always a bad sign I guess), the network did give out some good news today on their NHL Playoff Ratings.

On cable, average viewership on the NBC Sports Network, nee Versus, was up 22% to 600,000 for its first two days of telecasts on April 11-12, from 490,000 in 2011. (Other national data was available at presstime.)
Wednesday's and Thursday's combined coverage of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on both NBC Sports Network and CNBC combined for a total audience of 5.37 million viewers, a 31% increase versus 4.11 million last year, when NBC Sports Network, then known as Versus, was the only channel to show games.   Can racing ride the coattails of the NHL? Well, if getting some commercials being seen in front of more sports fans is an elixir, this may portend …

Strategic Problems & Bad Policy

I have always felt the way the Slots at Racetracks directive was handed down last month was bad policy. "Cold turkey" is something we eat, not something we do with a multi-billion dollar program.

There's one thing about bad policy, in my opinion. If you ask a simple question about the core of it, you don't get an answer.

The OLG CEO was asked a simple question:
In an interview last week, OLG President and CEO Rod Phillips was asked why the Ontario government ended the slots-at-racetrack program with a drop-dead date of March 2013 instead of working with the industry to discuss a possible phase-out or percentage reduction. Phillips' reply: “I don’t have an answer.” I have felt this was a proper way to implement this policy if the government was going to get rid of racing and slots, come hell or high water: Phase it out over several years, so the industry could prepare itself, sock some cash away; do whatever they want to soften the blow and become self-sustainin…

Sunday Thoughts After An Exciting Saturday

Off we go on a Sunday.....

Yesterday's racing proves how exciting the sport can be, and illustrates nicely the intersection of big events and betting that tends to drive it. The sport is simply an old boys club running for each others stakes cash without people betting their opinion.

In the Blue Grass, Dullahan proved his fantastic turn of foot is not a mirage with a super-close to win, going away. If you like this horse for the Derby, you certainly have a hot colt. I am still not convinced he's 100%, and I'm not sure that's a bad or a good thing, but that was one of the more exciting moves of the Derby season.

Keeneland proves once again it is the premier racing venue in the land (in my opinion). For years folks slammed them for poly, but that is one big mirage. Put on awesome events, care about customers, allow ADW's - even small ones - to have your signal, and innovate. You'll be fine. Yesterday's BG card provided them with a record handle and a record …

Simon Says What Others Don't

The horse racing community is pretty tight, unlike any other sport, in my opinion. I think our turf writers generally like participants, and their horses. Some of them write usually glowingly about a performance, or a training or riding job, and quite a few gloss over the opposite. In contrast, if a goalie, quarterback or field goal kicker wears the goat horns, you'll read about it.

One person who treads where many do not in horse racing is Twinspires' Derek Simon. His handicapping insights are good - he clearly knows what he's doing when he opens the PP's - but he pushes the envelope more often than not, and to me, that's what makes him stand out.

Yesterday he spoke about Horse of the Year Havre De Grace and her late speed figures, and (lack of) bullets. As most know, she is skipping the Apple Blossom (apparently) because the connections do not want that weight assignment. He's not taking that at face value, as he shouldn't. Regardless, I am not sure I…

Super Saturday

Well that was an interesting day for racing fans, wasn't it?

Starting with the end of the day first, Horse of the Year San Pail, at 5 cents to the dollar, was defeated by Mister Herbie in the Glorys Comet Final at Woodbine, with Windsong Geant a bang-up third. Shocking, stunning? I don't really think so. San Pail, off the layoff looked fantastic, but if you watched him closely last week as a handicapper, he was working very hard and was not as willing as we've seen him. And of course, his competition is a little better this year than last. That's not a redboard, we talked about it on twitter. And yes, some industry types called me names for thinking he may go down to defeat. Hey, it's twitter.

It will be interesting to see if he is a 151 and change trotter this year as an 8 year old. If he is, he likely will not win the majority of his races. For goodness sakes, he's 8 so we shouldn't expect him to, should we? He's a fantastic horse no matter what happe…

Shoot Foot & Repeat

One wonders how racing does the same things over and over again, finds out its a bad idea, but does it again anyway.

Last Friday in the high court of Australia, old time racing (the Tote) took the Corporate bookies to task. In this round the high court went with the TAB, and imposed a turnover fee on any of the corporate bookies, which essentially keeps TAB's monopoly in place.

Who does this hurt? You guessed it, the bettor.
RNSW CEO Peter V’Landys said on TVN on Sunday, “this was never about the punter”. However, what he has always failed to comprehend is that everything starts with the punter’s dollar and the finished product in his patch is likely now to be more expensive and slowly force racing punters to more attractive options, of which there are plenty. He claims to want to look after the 50,000 participants in the racing industry, but continues to ignore his most important and valuable participants, the four million punters who actually fund the industry Ironically…

Keeneland a Worthy Choice

On my first trip to Keeneland many years ago now, I was truly amazed at the place. Not only were there like-minded racing fanatics and bettors like me there, the place was, well, the place. The people were friendly, from the tellers to the man or woman cleaning up the lose tickets on the ground. The food was pretty good, the atmosphere tremendous. And the betting, well it was good too.

All the qualitative factors that I like in a track were there, and the it seems the quantitative ones are too. Again in 2012, Keeneland was ranked the best track on the continent in terms of horseplayer and handle value - takeout, field size, pool size, wager variety, etc - by the Horseplayers Association of North America.

One thing that strikes me about Keeneland is the constant want to get better. I have, over the years, met or presented on panels with horsemen folks, track execs, government people - the people who control our sport. Almost all the time the discussions are cordial and I learn someth…